In The Butterfly Heart I have two different narrators – Bul-Boo a young girl and Ifwafwa an older man. They are both from Zambia but at very different stages in their lives – so their narrative voices are very distinct. I am sure everyone who writes in different voices has their own way of doing this – for me, I need to see the character in my head, I need to know what they are doing while they are thinking these thoughts, picture them in their environment. The questions I ask myself are not ‘how will I write this?’ or ‘can I make this sound like Ifwafwa?’ instead I think: ‘I wonder what Bul-Boo thinks about this?’ or ‘Where is Ifwafwa?’ or ‘Poor Bul-Boo must be feeling awful about that.’
So, I do not write them as if I am them, because most clearly I’m not! Instead I write them as if I am talking to them or taking a quick tour of their brains while they are sitting outside with the sun beating down on them, or pedalling their bicycle through wet puddles. That way it is easier for me to know how they think. As I said in an earlier post, I write from character rather than from plot – so before I do anything I have to get to know them really well. I like that stage of writing.
At the moment, having finished another children’s book and a first draft of a book for adults, I am at the stage of starting a new book. But as yet I have no characters. Last night a line came into my head – Frank Waters was not a talkative man. So, this morning I got up and googled the name, as I do not know anyone called Frank Waters. An interesting result came up – Frank Waters was an American writer who wrote about the American Southwest and in particular about the experience of native Americans. His father was part Cheyenne and died when Frank was only twelve years old. The strange thing is that Frank Waters was born in 1902 on the 25th July which happens to be my birth date (not the 1902 part!).
Whether or not he was a talkative man, I don’t know. But an interesting man he certainly was. Here is one of his books – I think I might just get it.